Long before Romantic poets such as Wordsworth and Coleridge made the Lake District a celebrated landscape, generation after generation of shepherds were farming this mountainous region of northwest England. These “nobodies,” as The Shepherd’s Life author James Rebanks likes to say, are “the great forgotten silent majority of people who live, work, love and die without leaving much of a trace that they were ever here.” Rebanks can no longer claim to be a nobody. On his popular Twitter account (@herdyshepherd1), he shares picturesque scenes from his Lake District sheep farm with his 68,000 followers, and now he’s written a best-selling book about the cycles of the shepherding year, his deep roots in Cumbria, and the farming culture of the region.
Rebanks’ book is a rare glimpse inside a traditional shepherding way of life, a life that he abandoned for a short time to attend Oxford University. “Leaving the farm is supposed to make you have another life, but my leaving just made me realize that the farm was the beginning and end of everything for me,” Rebanks writes. The author mixes nitty-gritty, day-to-day details of his shepherding duties with poetic descriptions of the landscape, warm memories of his legendary grandfather, and blunt observations of how tourism along with an influx of new residents have negatively impacted traditional ways of life in the Lake District. Through Rebanks’ eyes, the reader gets the privilege of seeing the Lake District not from the point of view of a tourist or a Romantic poet, but through the eyes of a native son whose Cumbrian family history goes back more than 600 years. And that’s something very special, in this reviewer’s opinion.